With any criminal prosecution, from serious violent or sexual offences to low level motoring matters, the natural worry is what could happen if you are found guilty. Sentencing in a criminal case can be a daunting prospect for a defendant, and so we have tried to explain the different types of sentence that the Courts frequently consider.
When sentencing a defendant, the Court has to keep several factors in mind so that it reaches a fair decision that reflects everything that is relevant in the case. If the sentence is not fair, then there is the possibility of appealing against the decision. The factors considered by a Court include:
- The Court’s legal powers- i.e. what the Court is permitted to impose for that offence, usually defined by Acts of Parliament
- Sentencing Guidelines– these are guidance notes prepared by senior judges to ensure that cases are approached in a consistent manner across the country
- Facts about the offence itself- whether there are aggravating or mitigating features that make an offence more or less serious
- Facts about the individual defendant- for example whether they have a history of committing similar offences, or whether this is the first time they have appeared before the Courts
- Whether the defendant is entitled to credit for a guilty plea- by law, a defendant will receive a more lenient sentence if they admit the offence than if they are found guilty after a trial
After considering these points, a sentencing judge or magistrate will decide if the offence is so serious that it justifies a prison sentence. If not, a Community Order (or Youth Rehabilitation Order for someone under 18) may be more appropriate. In certain situations the Court can suspend a prison sentence to balance the seriousness of an offence with more positive features about the defendant’s case.
These pages are only an introduction to the issues involved in sentencing by the criminal courts. If you, or someone you know, are facing criminal prosecution, contact us. We can give you more information based on your personal circumstances and even recommend a specialist solicitor or barrister to help you.